When polled, about 92% of Americans report that they are happy – more or less. Just a little over half of that 92% claim to be “very happy.” The other half says “fairly happy.” The only other option the poll gave them was to say they weren’t happy at all, poor guys.
The latest numbers that I could find were from a 2007 poll. But the Gallup folks who took it had charts saying the figures had been roughly consistent over time.
So what do those numbers mean? 4 out of 10 of us say we’re okay with our lives. Things could be better, but we can’t complain.
Okay, in a different, more recent survey, 45% of us said we weren’t satisfied with our jobs. So a lot of us can complain about that.
And if you’re a college student, happiness may seem downright elusive. The number of college students suffering from depression has skyrocketed in recent years.
So despite Gallup’s rosy numbers, we’re not as happy as we could be. But the good news is that all of us can learn to be happier. We know from a decade of research in positive psychology what it takes to increase happiness, to live fuller, richer, more satisfying lives.
Pathways to Happiness
In his most recent book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Martin Seligman identifies the pillars of a satisfying life. He identifies them with the acronym PERMA, which stands for Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement.
Initially, as president of the American Psychological Association, Seligman steered the new discipline of positive psychology toward the study of what he called “authentic happiness”—a deep satisfaction with life rooted in living according to one’s truest values. But as the field grew, Seligman saw that a genuinely full, rich life included, but went beyond the emotion of happiness. Nevertheless, people who flourish would undoubtedly fall in the upper ranges of the Gallop happiness poll; to experience genuine well-being is to be happy.
We’ll look at the five pillars of flourishing in more depth in later posts and explore how you can build your happiness around them.
For now, the important thing is to recognize that you have it in your power to be happier—to experience real well-being in your life.
Owning Your Own Happiness
It’s a well-accepted fact now that 40% of your happiness is in your control. Your genetic inheritance is responsible for your half of happiness baseline, and your circumstances play a 10% part. But if you take ownership of the 40% that you can influence, you can create an enormous increase in the frequency and depth of your experience of happiness.
You can wake up happier, work happier, create happier relationships, find more time for play, and find more spiritual happiness.
It’s all a matter of choice—of deciding that being happier is worth changing a few things in your life.
“Like what?” you might be wondering. Well, to begin with, you may need to change some hidden beliefs. You’ll need to try on the belief that learning to be happier is something you can do, for example. And you’ll need to be willing to create some time—not a lot, but some—to doing the things that build happiness. You’ll need to stick with it when results take a little longer than you expected.
You’ll need to be willing to be honest with yourself, to look at the things that are keeping you from greater happiness. And you may find some things in your life that you’ll have to find the courage to let go.
The Grand Adventure
But all of that is a small price to pay for the rewards your efforts will yield. And to be honest with you, learning to be happy is to fully live. The quest is a grand adventure through your own inner territory—and through a good chunk of your outer world as well. It lets you see your life in a whole new way and gives you the tools to shape it in ways that make every day worth living.
First, grab a copy of the free ebook up there at the top right of this page and read through it. (As a bonus, you’ll get a copy of my Sunday message delivered to your mailbox at the beginning of each week. You can sample past issues by clicking on the “Sunday Specials” tab above.)
And second, you can begin paying attention to the positive feelings you experience in the coming week—the serenity, the gratitude, the hope and optimism, the fun, the pride, the awe, the love and joy—and take notice of how they really feel.
Then stay tuned, and together we’ll take off on this grand adventure, this hunt for the ultimate treasure: a meaningful, satisfying, rich, happy life.